Over the long weekend, I reconnected with friends and caught up on their lives, especially their emotional and romantic lives. One friend in particular surprised all of us. She likes sex (and from what we’ve heard from her past lovers is quite good at it) but she’s also had a love-hate relationship with intercourse for as long as she’s been sexually active. She goes through bouts of what she calls ‘sex fatigue’ where tired of the guilt and diminishing returns of sex with a partner, she abstains, first incidentally, then purposely. It never lasts very long, but the reprieve she gets from her cycles of abstinence seems to do wonders for her mental health.
But now, she assures she’s full on, all out celibate. Has been for almost a year now. She says it’s hard, one of the hardest things she’s ever done, but she also says she’s at her most emotionally healthiest. She did not seem any different so I took at her word. However, I also needed to know the difference, colloquially at least between abstinence and celibacy.
In her words,
“Abstinence is the refusal to have sex, that in and of itself is the end goal. There is no timeframe, no larger purpose. Celibacy on the other hand is forsaking sexual pleasure in the service of a greater goal. For me, its marriage to a God fearing man, for other people, it might be other things.”
Hearing her speak so passionately about her decision to embrace celibacy made me realise that taking sex off the table did not really remove it from the equation. What is really did was merely expand the scope of its influence in her life. Before she used to be defined by who she was having sex with, and the frequency and quality of the sex she was having. Now she defines herself by if she will ever have sex again and when it will happen if it does.
It is somewhat paradoxical that sex will always be so integral to how we see ourselves in the world, though as far as personal achievements go, it is our least important.
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